In reading Deborah Solomon’s interesting review of the new book, “My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Steiglitz”in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, I was struck once again by how free literary and artistic men have historically felt to reveal themselves in all their egomaniacal splendor or horror (think Picasso, Hemingway, Styron, Faulkner, Keroac, to name a few) while literary and artistic women have kept silent about themselves (from Austen on).. Steiglitz, the famous photographer and gallery owner, wrote letters that Solomon says “read like an exercise in negative self-salesmanship,” endlessly revealing his hypochondriacal, egomaniacal, wounded self without inhibition to the woman he first hoped to and then did marry. O’Keeffe, by contrast, throughout their friendship and later marriage “retained her armor of discretion,” Solomon says. She remained silent about her deepest self in these letters–just as she remained silent when critics asked whether those luscious flowers of hers depicted women’s sexual organs.
Okay, so Treasury Bonds are being grabbed; gold is being hoarded; God is being called upon like never before to save us all from chaos, as He was in Houston a few weeks ago, by tens of thousands of evangelical Christians. Many have written about the problem of harking back to our belief systems, and our superstitions, and our specific faiths , instead of using better means to solve problems, like clear thinking, open-mindedness, conciliation, and negotiation. (See Frank Bruni, “True Believers, All of Us, The New York Times, August 6, 2011.)
I worry particualarly about women, vulnerable now to similar magical-thinking-solutions. I’m hearing young women talk about finding a guy to marry—quickly. I’m hearing older women talk about the futility of trying to reinvent themselves and instead figuring they’ll just hang on for dear life. As with trying to solve the world’s problems with faith and belief systems, trying to stay safe through all the old conventional means is dangerous to our collective psyche. When the economy is tight, and when men get scared, certain things happen like clockwork: There’s more domestic violence. Women tend to retreat; to return to the home, if not literally, then figuratively, as if the homely virtues ever paid off. We imagine that things were so much better long ago.
Now that we’re no longer a married culture; now that we have more single people floating about the country than wedded ones, it’s fun to watch the family-values contingent race to point fingers. Who is responsible for this cultural sea-change? Who, they want to know, is bad, and who is good?
I always want to know who’s doing the asking.
When you see a study claiming to somehow assess our morals, be suspicious of interest groups conducting that study—just as you’d be suspicious of a drug company conducting a study of one of its drugs. You want to know if it’s the Christian Right surveying people on their infidelity habits, say, or if it’s a neutral organization like the Pew Research organization, which analyzes census data. For when the Very, Very Righteous claim to be objective about a moral issue, I get very very nervous. Continue Reading →
Yesterday’s jubilant march along New York streets celebrating the right of gay men and women to marry was a spectacular reaffirmation of something we haven’t witnessed in awhile: A victory of civil rights, yes, but also a victory for marriage.
Marriage needs a victory, for it’s in deep trouble. I’ve long lamented the high rate of depression among young married women—a depression the culture has stonewalled, and which has led to a massive walkout strike among wives. I call it “Matrimorphosis,” this transformation of sexy, authentic brides into unhappy wives. And now that so many middle-class women no longer need marriage to put a roof over their heads, they’re finding other ways to live.
That an entire book has to be written about the way in which the French put pleasure first in their lives–a pleasure gleaned from a lovely long lunch; a good cheese; a natural (as opposed to a creepy or inappropriate) flirtation, makes me sad that our culture comes out so unfavorably. It’s true that in our culture, “pleasure” seems to be a code word for sex, not a joy we breathe, not the expansive emotion, as the late William Safire wrote in his language column in The Times many years ago, “that suffuses one who has been gratified or stroked; it’s a good feeling, whether physical or intellectual.”
Now that the 2012 election is nearing and potential candidates who have committed ethics slip-ups are trying to get vetted by, say, the tea party, it’s fun to see the Righteousness Crew do their thing. There’s Newt Gingrich, toying with running, explaining away his adultery (not to mention his divorces) by citing Patriotism as his justification (If you love your country enough, how can you be asked to be faithful to a mere mortal?). At least G.O.P. senator John Ensign had the decency to resign today, and not put us all through that tortuous game of moral fact-twisting. It’s actually fun to watch the Righteousness Crew at work; religious conservatives so often present themselves as so very holy. But let’s get real: Let me point out what the facts say, now and for as long as I’ve been studying this (which is about 25 years) about Who Cheats and Who Doesn’t. Continue Reading →